Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Lynx at Half Way

You probably don't remember that I picked the Lynx to finish 2nd to the L.A. Sparks in the West and to lose to the Sparks in the division semis.

It's too early to say I'm wrong, but the Lynx have just had 1 hell of a 1st half to their season, winning 14 of 17 games, 1 more than at this time in both 2011, when they won the WNBA title, and in 2012, when they didn't.

And the Lynx are not just 1, not just 2 games better than L.A. at this point, they're 2-and-a-half better, 3 in the loss column. They're 2 ahead of the 2nd best team in the league, which right now is the Chicago Sky at 12-5.

So the Lynx and L.A. aren't the only or even the major surprises in the WNBA so far. Almost everybody is a surprise, beginning with Rookie of the Year candidates Brittney Griner and Ellena Della Donna. Griner, the favorite initially, is now running a distant 2nd to Della Donna in the Rookie race. And not only that, Della Donna, who is scoring a league 3rd best 18 ppg, has led the Sky to that gaudy 12-5 record, compared to last year's 14-20, good for 5th in the East and a seat on the outside looking in at the post-season.

Griner, meanhile, is scoring 14 ppg and Phoenix is off to a shocking 9-9 start, despite the fact that Diana Taurasi is leading the league in scoring at 22 ppg in her return from an injury that kept her out of play a year ago. (I had them 23-11, just 1 game behind the Lynx.)

Also surprising, in the East, are Connecticut and Indiana, whom I had had 1st and 2nd. They're 4th and 6th. Indiana is after all the WNBA champion but are 8-9 at the halfway point. Connecticut is a shocking 6-12 despite Tina Charles having yet another MVP caliber season at 18 points and 9 boards.

But the biggest surprise is L.A. Of course, they're 12-6, just a half-game short of the 2nd best record in the league, so I guess they're doin' OK. I mean, they gave the Lynx 2 of their 3 losses, and they were routs, 87-59 and 96-66. But they lost almost as big at Minnesota, 88-64. They're just 8-5 vs. the West. In 2 of their last 3 games before the All-Star break, they lost to Phoenix and Seattle at home.

And that brings us to the Lynx. They're playin' great.

Maya Moore leads the team in scoring, as I said she would, with 16 ppg. I said on the other hand that Lindsey Whalen's game might begin to slip at age 31. Quite the opposite. Her scoring average is way up to 16 ppg, she's averaging 5 assists and she's shooting 49 percent. Seimone Augustus' scoring average has dropped to 15 ppg, but she's shooting 52 percent. Rebekah Brunson hasn't slipped a white, averaging 10 points and 9 boards. And Monica Wright has become the super-sub that Candace Wiggins used to be.

And so the primary goal of the 2nd half of the season would seem to be quite achievable. Hold the home court for the playoffs. Of course that didn't guarantee success a year ago and it doesn't guarantee success in 2013. Still, would you rather have the home ice against L.A. (average score 88-64) or play 'em on the road (average score 62-92)?

I would have said the same thing a year ago, but I'll say it again anyway. The Sparks are the only team that stands in the way of the Lynx and another WNBA title. What if the 2 played on a neutral court?

As a team, the Lynx are out-scoring their opponents 83-74. The Sparks are out-scoring theirs 83-75. One for the Lynx.

The Lynx are out-shooting their opponents 46 percent to 40, the Sparks 47-41. One for L.A.

The Lynx are out-rebounded their opponents by a whopping 39-33.5. L.A. is even at 34-all. Another one for the Lynx.

And the Lynx are turning the ball over 12 times per game, their opponents 14. L.A. is averaging 14 turnovers, their opponents 16. So that's a draw.

In the post, L.A. has a big advantage with Candace Parker. At the small forward, the Lynx have the advantage with Maya Moore. At the point, I'll take Lindsey over former Lynx Lindsey Harding. Each has 5 assists per game, but Whalen is out-scoring Harding 16-12 and out-shooting her 49 percent to 46. At the off guard it's Seimone over Kristi Tolliver though her scoring edge is just 15-14 and both are all-stars. But Seimone is shooting 52 percent and Tolliver 47.

At the big forward again there's a pair of all-stars in Brunson (10 points 9 boards 47 percent) and Nneka Ogumwike (14 points 7 boards 58 percent). Gotta be Nneka.

But a slight edge at the 2 guards and a big edge in Maya Moore means the Lynx win on a neutral court. But, of course, they won't be playing on a neutral court, the Lynx will have the home court advantage.

But that brings us to Maya Moore. She leads the Lynx in scoring. She led the 4 Lynx in the all-star game with 14 (Seimone had 12 Brunson 11 and Lindsey 8). But in the last 3 games before the all-star game she didn't score more than 14 points. In 3 games against L.A. she's scored 21 points on 8-of-27 shooting.

I said in my pre-season post that Maya Moore was the key to the Lynx contending, much less winning, the 2014 WNBA title. I still think that's so. They'll need a more consistent performance from Maya. In the meantime, of course, it doesn't hurt that Lindsey, Rebekah and Seimone are also playing like all-stars.

Revised Playoff Forecast

Eastern Division

#1 Atlanta 2 Washington 0
#2 Chicago 2 Indiana 1
Atlanta 2 Chicago 1. Chicago's chances rest entirely on Elena Della Donna's successful recovery from a concussion suffering in the final game before the all-star break.

Western Division

Minnesota 2 San Antonio 0
L.A. 2 Phoenix 0
Minnesota 2 L.A. 1. Minnesota's win depends on maintaining the home court advantage over the Sparks.


Minnesota 3 Atlanta 1. Minnesota's win depends on Maya Moore playing like the Maya Moore of the Olympics and the all-star game, and not the Maya Moore who seems to defer to Seimone as a Lynx.

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